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A letter from Dennis Smith in Argentina

August 15, 2012

Dear friends:

A colleague responding to our last newsletter said he enjoyed the stories but would like to understand better what a Presbyterian World Mission regional liaison DOES. 

Good question! 

My job includes building bridges between PC(USA) mission partners in South America and Presbyterians in the U.S., connecting interests, needs and gifts.  My bailiwick consists of 12 mission partners in five countries served by nine mission workers.

Here are two recent stories:

Argentine Pentecostal pastors receive workshop on Biblical masculinity with Rev. Kevin Frederick

ALIDD, an Argentine Pentecostal denomination, has been a PC(USA) mission partner for decades.  Last year when I was meeting with Rev. Jorge Vaccaro, general secretary, and Rev. Miguel Ángel Benítez, president of the denomination, they mentioned that one of their priorities is to take a prophetic stand against domestic violence. ALIDD has worked on this difficult issue but has no resources focused on promoting a new masculinity.

Rev. Kevin Frederick, pastor of Waldensian Presbyterian Church in Valdese, N.C., has developed a curriculum on Biblical masculinity that challenges macho stereotypes.  Kevin and I have worked together in Guatemala, and he planned to travel to Argentina in May.  Kevin was delighted to prepare a four-hour introduction to his new curriculum for our Pentecostal partners.  Jorge and Miguel Angel brought together about 30 ALIDD pastors; one of them traveled 1,000 miles to participate! 

There were tears and laughter as these brothers shared their struggle of learning how to follow Jesus in a society that expects men to be machos.  At the end of the day they laid hands on us and prayed God's blessing on our continued ministry.

I interpreted for Kevin during this workshop and also put him in touch with skilled local translators who will be able to translate the curriculum into Spanish for half the commercial rate. Now we're planning a follow-up workshop with ALIDD pastors in northern Argentina for 2013. (Thanks, Kevin, for the photos!)

After the masculinity workshop Kevin and I were joined by Rev. Jonathan Evans, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Naples, Fla., and Rev. Francis Rivers, executive secretary of the American Waldensian Society. Jonathan had been a Young Adult Volunteer in Buenos Aires a few years ago. Francis organized the delegation to visit ministries related to the Evangelical Waldensian Church of the Rio de la Plata, another PC(USA) mission partner.  We wanted to explore together how to strengthen ties between these ministries and U.S. Presbyterians.

We traveled 16 hours by bus to El Chaco, home to the Qom people, a vast, sparsely populated region that straddles Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. For decades the Waldensians have been working with  PC(USA) mission partner ISEDET, an ecumenical seminary, providing Qom church leaders with biblical and theological training.

Like so many other tribal peoples throughout the world, the Qom struggle to preserve traditional cultural values while adapting to challenges ranging from jobs and education for their youth to preserving their rights to ancestral lands.

Rev. Auden Charole, second from right, and Rev. Hugo Malán, far left, team teach a Bible class for Qom church leaders

In El Chaco we met Rev. Auden Charole, a young Qom pastor. He was team-teaching a class at the Bible School together with Rev. Hugo Malán, a Waldensian Bible scholar.  Auden shared with us a new book, published by the provincial government, that documents Qom knowledge of local wildlife, including legends told by the elders explaining each creature's place in the community of all created things.  Auden drew many of the illustrations for this pioneering volume.

Auden explained that his parents are Christians; he came to know the gospel as a child.  When he was 16, however, he left the church and went to work as a day laborer for immigrants who had usurped Qom lands. “It didn't occur to me to value my own culture; I had no hope of defending my rights as a person,” he observed.  “But then in 2001 our community experienced a rebirth of our rights as a people, of our self-esteem, of our traditions.  It was the Bible School that provided the space where we made all these discoveries.  This is where our leaders gathered.  I was able to finish my schooling here.  Now I have a family and when I look at my young son I am encouraged to continue the struggle for our rights, for our land.”

As we sat in and observed the class, we witnessed faithful men and women from an oral culture working hard to interpret Bible texts and link those teachings to their own time and place.  It's one thing to learn the language of the land, of flora and fauna, of community; it's quite another to unpack subtleties of meaning from the printed page.  We noted that Hugo and Auden had the good sense not to provide easy answers, nor to interrupt the silences as the Qom leaders struggled with the texts.

These are two examples of how I help to build bridges between North and South. Within the next year or so we pray that U.S. Presbyterians will feel God's call to build mission partnerships in this region.  We have so much to learn and to share as God is made known in our midst.

Finally, prayer requests:  I have two trips to Brazil in August and September.  I'll accompany mission workers as they complete their annual reviews and set goals for the next year.  I'll also participate in an evangelism conference organized by the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil and present papers at conferences organized by two of our partners in theological education. 

In October I hope to see some of you at the Dallas II mission conference; together we'll work on critical global issues for Presbyterian World Mission.

Your financial support makes this work possible.  Your prayers give me strength and wisdom to continue. 

Under the Mercy,

Dennis

The 2012 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 2

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